This highly acclaimed Tennessee Williams story was originally released to Broadway in 1951 with great success. It captured Tony awards for both leads, Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach. Once producer Hal Wallis purchased the screen rights there were two new names associated with the project.
Williams had originally wrote the leading role of Sicilian Serafina Delle Rose for the actress Anna Magnani whose mastery of the English language was not up to the rigors of an everyday Broadway production. When it came to selling the rights to Wallis for the movie version it was stipulated in the contract that Anna was to play the role as originally intended. Needing North American star power, Wallis handed the role of her buffoonish suitor and eventual lover to towering Burt Lancaster whom he still had under contract.
The story starts by letting the audience in on the fact that the husband of Magnani is a philanderer yet she is blinded to the fact because of her passion for the statuesque man we only see in shadows and dark rooms in the film’s opening sequence. He’ll soon be killed in an auto wreck while fleeing police with what appears to be illegal goods. This sends Magnani into a severe state of depression that leads to a serious deterioration in her relationship with her fifteen year old daughter played by Marisa Pavan.
Moving on three years, Magnani still lives in a state of mental anguish. The rooms are dark with little sunshine in her home and she is still clad in black. Her fiery nature clashes with Pavan who is awakening to the world boys and sex. Most notably in the form of a young sailor played by Ben Cooper. Pavan is ashamed of her Mother’s refusal to move on and let some light into her life just as her own is blossoming.
Into her life comes another truck driver with an overpowering physique. While her first husband was obviously a strong “Burt Lancaster” type this new man played by none other than Lancaster is far from what one would expect. He’s a self proclaimed “son of the village idiot.” The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree in his case either. We get the patented Burt smiles and energetic movements but the ham is sliced a bit thick this time out.
Burt’s a man looking for love and believes he can reawaken Magnani to life’s passions if she’ll let him inside her tightly knit mental wall of anguish. She begins to come around but is heard to utter, “My husband’s body with the head of a clown.” Burt’s main problem is in trying to hard to win her over and this results in his one big scene breaking down over what he believes is his ruined opportunity at finding love.
Not having seen this film in many years I was instantly swept up in Anna Magnani’s Oscar winning performance. A real show stopper! The role has many mountainous highs and supreme lows for her grieving widow. Watch her come out of her shell little by little when Burt first comes to visit and how she slyly eyes up the famous Lancaster physique. Quite amusing. Her performance alone makes this a must see.
As for Burt, make no mistake I am a huge supporter but I have to admit he’s a little over the top at times and I think the production would have been much better served with someone like Anthony Quinn in the role. Quinn would seem to have been a natural casting choice had this been made in the late fifties early sixties.
The film was directed by Daniel Mann who had already worked with Lancaster on an earlier critical triumph in 1952’s Come Back Little Sheba. By this time Burt’s career had risen to greater heights and the shoot was apparently not as smooth as their previous union. With the fiery Anna mixed in with Burt’s dominating presence, producer Hal Wallis had to play peacemaker on more than one occasion.
I won’t bother with the significance of The Rose Tattoo itself in hopes that if you haven’t seen this Oscar winner you’ll seek it out to find out just what it refers to. If you have already seen it like myself but find it’s been many a year then give it another look and marvel at Magnani who even Brando was fearful of appearing opposite.